STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a good movie but not necessarily a great one. J.J. Abrams returns to a Galaxy far, far away to provide a final send-off to the beloved 40-year old saga of one really messed up family caught amidst an epic battle between light and dark. The end result? By our estimation, this will be a film popular with general audiences that will be endlessly debated by critics and fans. What else is new?
Abrams inherited no small task. After kicking off the epilogue trilogy with STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, a rift in the Force split open a divide with fans going into woulda, coulda, shouldas for the direction of the various storylines. Heated debates only intensified after the surprisingly divisive entry with Rian Johnson’s STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. A fandom was in disarray.
All of the strife and turmoil wasn’t contained to just the saga films. Less enthusiastic fanfare for the new SOLO film franchise and softer than expected attendance at Disney Parks following the opening of two new Star Wars lands made things even more precarious for the brand as a whole. You could imagine Disney and Lucasfilm wanting to play things a little on the safer side to save some face.
Ultimately a safer approach did win out here and that might be the biggest detriment to the final picture. While a cautious approach aimed at not offending anyone tips the scale towards a more pedestrian end result, the film is not inherently bad. It has nice strong bones and it will no doubt make rancor-sized sums of credits. Still, another facet that works against it is a grab-bag’s-worth of easy fan-service nods to earn brownie points; some of which come across as cloying and insincere including a scene with Chewbacca and Maz Kanata.
Still, while there shouldn’t be much to ruffle a Wookie’s fur over, this latest entry should still prove to offer no less fodder for endless debate for at least another four decades introducing a flurry of new things to discuss. Questions addressed include the matter of Rey’s lineage, the fate of General Leia Organa, and how the heck “Palpatine” is even being muttered at this point in the timeline. Oh, and more than a few familiar former faces — and voices — including the much hyped return of Lando Calrissian portrayed once more by Billy D. Williams.
The overall tangible and real-feel look of the Galaxy is another strong-point, revived again after suffering slightly in the CG-heavy prior episode. Another thing Abrams absolutely nails again is how to film the Millennium Falcon. The old hunk of junk still slaps and the scenes featuring the old gal are killer. If you’ve been on the new ride, you’ll feel a warm familiarity with its interiors and empathize with Poe Dameron as even he struggles to helm the fastest ship in the galaxy.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her evolution and mastery of her skills, Kylo (Adam Driver) grows even more hell-bent on power, and there’s a bunch more great interactions with Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and also C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) who takes a slightly bigger chunk of screen time here. The presence of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is balanced just right amongst other smaller roles including Lt. Connix (Billie Lourd), Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie). And because it’s good to be friends with Abrams, see also Greg Grunberg and Dominic Monaghan. Tons of blink-and-miss cameos also abound including John Williams, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and more.
Then, of course, there’s Leia. So much to say. So much to feel. As wonderful as it was to have Carrie Fisher on screen once more, it did feel distracting at first knowing that entire scenes were orchestrated around using recycled footage that already existed. I got too much into my own head trying to figure out where her dialogue would have existed in the previous movies but once I was able to convince myself to stop doing that everything flowed more smoothly.
D-O is the greenest droid in the family, not just because he’s brand new but he’s literally painted bright green. While his overall reason for being seems to serve little more than another toy to push this holiday season, he does come with a small but important part in the overall story.
While perhaps tackling more than it could have or should have and perhaps taking an overall too-safe approach, STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER powers through to the finish line without really ever dragging. There’s nail-biting moments, good strong laughs, and plenty of tears.
While I didn’t leave the theater exuberant and rejoiced, I did feel at peace with where everything ended up and ultimately all felt right with the Force.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER soars into theaters December 20, 2019.